On Tuesday afternoon I took a 8-9 hour bus ride from Berlin to Krakow, Poland. I sat in the back back back of the bus, next to a group of travelers from Holland. They handed out free chocolate a few hours into the journey, which of course delighted me:
One of the girls sitting next to me. Her group of friends have known each other since primary school, and have plans to travel together every year until forever.
I arrived in Krakow around 9 PM, and figured out that my hostel was a 30 minute walk in the dark from the bus station. Luckily, Krakow feels really safe and lively at night. When I arrived, I opted to crash instead of trying to be adventurous and go out.
My hostel is AMAZING. It’s immaculately clean and feels a lot more like staying in someone’s house than staying in a hostel. I’m in a 4 person dorm room, and it’s quiet and nice. All of the rooms are different countries, so I’m staying in the “India” room. In the morning, there’s free breakfast provided, and you sit at a dining room table with the other guests. It’s fruit, toast, meat, cheese, fresh coffee, and also a different hot breakfast each day. Yesterday, it was fruit crepes- today, apple pancakes. YES. This is also one of the least expensive places I’ve stayed. In general, money goes much farther in Poland than anywhere else I’ve traveled thusfar.
Wednesday morning I decided to start the day by taking a free walking tour of Old Town. We met at St. Mary’s Basilica and ran into a pilgrimage march- I think they said these people were marching approximately 200 kilometers from one holy site to another.
Our tour guide lovingly referred to this place as the “Boner Palace.”
The “Pope’s Window,” of the Bishop’s Palace where Pope John Paul II used to address his followers. Wow, Poland is VERY Catholic. It was like being in middle school all over again.
Wawel Castle. My guide said, “Why do you think this castle is so ugly? Because they just kept building onto it during different architectural periods. There’s Baroque, Medieval, Renaissance, etc. It’s ugly!”
On the tour, I mostly learned that Krakow’s “Golden Age” was in the end of the 15th century. Since then, it got invaded a lot, and of course through the 20th century Poland saw WWI and WWII, and then communist occupation. There’s also apparently a rivalry between Warsaw and Krakow, and we were taught how to say, “I don’t like Warsaw” in Polish.
After my Old Town tour, I had lunch with Alex, a girl I met on the tour. These two plates of food plus the beer were about 7 dollars!
After lunch, Alex and I made our way to another free city tour, this time of Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter.
“Lover’s Bridge.” This river separated the main Jewish Quarter from where the Jewish ghetto was located during WWII. Apparently Steven Spielberg filmed a lot of the ghetto scenes in the main Jewish Quarter, which is more scenic but historically inaccurate.
The old wall to the Jewish ghetto during WWII.
On the tour I also learned that Oskar Schindler wasn’t all that great, and was actually just kind of an opportunist who also happened to save people. Instead, Irena Sendlerowa is the real hero, who saved 2500 people at no gain to herself. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, but lost to Al Gore.
After the second walking tour, I had dinner with some amazing girls, Elien and Liem, from Belgium. It’s so nice to be able to slide in and out of having company and having alone time.
After dinner, I went to see a concert at Kościół Świętych Apostołów Piotra i Pawła, a church in Old Town. It was a string quintet, and they played a lot of classical “hits”- Mozart, Bach, Saint Saens, Tchaikovsky- and rounded everything out with an encore of “Yesterday” by the Beatles. it was very beautiful and magical.
So far, I am really LOVING Krakow. It’s friendly, and I am finding my way in and out of experiences easily. I think Ponderosa really revived and refreshed me in a way where I’m ready to tackle new experiences with more joy and ease.